Richard Mather Bayles.

History of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time online

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Tories who were so strong in their sentiments as to make a
residence among the friends of independence undesirable, were
frequently coming over to the island to join the British army
or to take advantage of its protection. Some Quakers, whose
peculiar principles forbade their taking any active part in war-
like transactions, fled to the island as an asylum from the ap-
peals of their active whig neighbors. Sullivan, in his raid on
the island, claimed to have taken twenty-eight tories in addi-
tion to his other trophies, but the accounts from the other side
represent that they were not tories but peaceable Quakers.

The fears of the British, above referred to, were not ground-
less. During November a number of raids were made by the
Americans from Elizabethtown. On the night of Tuesday, the
18th, just before the rising of the moon, a party landed in the
meadow, where they concealed themselves until they had the
advantage of moonlight, when they surprised the picket, but
after a brisk skirmish were obliged to abandon the scheme and
return to Elizabethtown. Another attack was made the follow-


ing day, but so far as we can learn with no better success.
Again, early on Thursday morning, the 20th, a body of
" rebels," commanded by Philemon Dickenson, before spoken
of, landed on the island and advanced upon the encampments
of Campbell. No sooner had they opened fire on them, how-
ever, than they discovered reinforcements approaching and sev-
eral ships of war steering for the island. Seeing that they
would be overwhelmed by numbers they retired, and with the
loss of a few prisoners made good their escape to the Jersey
shore. On Friday another attempt was made to approach the
island, but with no better results. In these raids more or less
stores and provisions were carried off. At the final evacuation
on Friday, the removal of what stores they had collected was ex-
ecuted under cover of an armed vessel, which approached the
shore near the present site of Mariner's Harbor and fired occa-
sional guns at the houses on the island.

Some difficulty seems at this time to have been experienced
in enforcing the restrictions against the exportation of salt from
New York to Staten Island, by which channel that article of
necessity was smuggled into New Jersey. By a proclamation
on the 15th of November, Clinton directed that the inhabitants
of Staten Island should be allowed to carry salt for their family
use, not exceeding three bushels for a family, on obtaining a
certificate from a justice of the peace attesting that they were
proper persons to be trusted with it. This regulation soon fell
into abuse, arid on the 18th it was amended by a further proc-
lamation that all persons from the island applying for a permit
to carry salt thither must have a certificate from either General
Campbell or General Skinner, and general authority was given
to any one who should intercept any person carrying salt with-
out the requisite permit, to seize and appropriate the salt to his
own use and purposes.

On the 20th of December General Clinton issued a remarka-
ble proclamation regulating the prices of farm products, the
arguments, objects and substance of which are shown in the
following extracts :

" WHEREAS it is consonant not only to the common princi-
ples of humanity, but to the wisdom and policy of all well
regulated states, in certain exigencies to guard against the ex-
tortion of individuals, who raise the necessaries of life, without
which other parts of the community cannot subsist ; and where-


as the fanners on Long-Island and Staten Island are possessed
of great quantities of Wheat, Rye, and Indian Corn, for sale,
beyond what they want for their own consumption, and it is
highly unreasonable that those who may stand in need of those
articles, should be left at the mercy of the farmer, and whereas
it is equally just and reasonable that every encouragement
should be given to the industry of the husbandman ; * * *
* * * and whereas the present rates at which Wheat, Flour
Rye-Meal, and Indian Meal are sold, do vastly exceed in pro-
portion the advanced price of those articles which the farmer
stands in need of purchasing, * * * * * d hereby or-
der and direct that the prices to be hereafter demanded for the
said articles shall not exceed the following rates,

"A Bushel of Wheat weighing Fifty Eight Pounds, Twelve
Shillings, with an Allowance, or deduction in proportion for a
greater or lesser weight.

"A Bushel of Rye, or Indian Corn, Seven Shillings.

" Merchantable Wheat Flour, Thirty-five Shillings per Cwt.

"Rye Flour, Twenty Shillings per Cwt."

"Indian Meal, Seventeen Shillings per Cwt."

The proclamation further stipulated that the farmers of these
two islands should at once make returns to the commanding of-
ficers of militia in their respective localities, showing the quan-
tity of each kind of grain they had, and what quantity they
would need for the use of their families during the year. He
also ordered the farmers to thresh one third of their grain at
once ; another third by the first of February and the remaining
third by the first of May next. A refusal to comply with any
of the requirements set forth in the proclamation should be
punishable by confiscation of the entire crop of grain belong-
ing to such offender, and imprisonment of his person.

In January, 1778, the prisoners taken in the raid of Dicken-
son during November preceding had not been exchanged, but
on the contrary, some had been summarily dealt with, when the
following correspondence passed between General Robertson
and Governor Livingston of New Jersey, which, as it throws
light on the condition of affairs and the results of the Novem-
ber raids on the island, we insert in full.

"New York, January 4, 1778.


" I am interrupted in my daily attempts to soften the calami-


ties of prisoners, and reconcile their case with our security, by
a general cry of resentment, arising from an information

"That officers in the King's service taken on the 27th of No-
vember, and Mr. John Brown, a deputy-commissary, are to be
tried in Jersey for high treason ; and that Mr. Iliff and another
prisoner have been hanged.

" Though I am neither authorized to threaten or to sooth, my
wish to prevent an increase of horrors, will justify my using
the liberty of an old acquaintance, to desire your interposition
to put an end to, or prevent measures which, if pursued on one
side would tend to prevent every act of humanity on the other,
and render every person who exercises this to the King's ene-
mies, odious to his friends.

"I need not point out to you all the cruel consequences of
such a proceedure. I am hopeful you'll prevent them, and ex-
cuse this trouble from. Sir,

"Your most obedient humble servant,


"N. B. At the moment that the cry of murder reached my
ears, I was signing orders, that Fell's request to have the liberty
of the city, and Colonel Reynold to be set free on his parole,
should be complied with. I have not recalled the order, be-
cause tho' the evidence be strong, I can't believe it possible, a
measure so cruel and impolitic, could be adopted where you
bear sway.

"To William Livingston, Esq., &c., &c."

To this Governor Livingston replied :

" January 7, 1778.
" SIR,

"Having received a letter under your signature, dated the
4th instant, which I have some reason to think you intended
for me, I sit down to answer your inquiries concerning certain
officers in the service of your king taken on Staten Island, and
one Browne who calls himself a deputy commissary ; and also
respecting ons Iliff and another prisoner (I suppose you must
mean John Mee, he having shared the fate you mention) who
have been hanged.

" Buskirk, Earl and Hammel, who are, I presume, the officers
intended, with the said Browne, were sent to me by General
Dickenson as prisoners taken on Staten Island. Finding them
all to be subjects of this state, and to have committed treason


against it, the council of safety committed them to Trenton
goal. At the same time I acquainted General Washington,
that if he chose to treat the three first who were British officers,
as prisoners of war, I doubted not the council of safety would
be satisfied. General Washington has since informed me that
he intends to consider them as such; and they are therefore at
his service, whenever the commissary of prisoners shall direct
concerning them. Browne I am told committed several rob-
beries in this state before he took sanctuary on Staten-Island,
and I should scarcely imagine that he has expiated the guilt of
his former crimes by committing the greater one of joining the
enemies of his country. However, if Gen. Washington chooses
to consider him also as a prisoner of war, I shall not interpose
in the matter.

"Iliff was executed after a trial by jury for enlisting our
subjects, himself being one, as recruits in the British army,
and he was apprehended on his way with them to Staten-Island.
Had he never been subject to this state, he would have forfeited
his life as a spy. Mee was one of his company, and had also
procured our subjects to enlist in the service of the enemy.

"If these transactions, Sir, should induce you to counte-
nance greater severities toward our people, whom the fortune
of war has thrown into your power, than they have already
suffered, you will pardon me for thinking that you go farther
out of your way to find palliatives for inhumanity, than ne-
cessity seems to require; and if this be the cry of murder to
which you allude as having reached your ears, I sincerely pity
your ears for being so frequently assaulted with cries of mur-
der much more audible, because much less distant, I mean the
cries of your prisoners who are constantly perishing in the
goals of New York (the coolest and most deliberate kind of
murder) from the rigorous manner of their treatment.
" I am with due respect,

" Your most humble servant,

"James Robertson, Esq., &c. &c.

"P. S. You have distinguished me by a title which I have
neither authority nor ambition to assume, I know of no man,
sir, who bears sway in this state. It is our peculiar felicity,
and our superiority over the tyrannical system we have dis-


carded, that we are not swayed by men In New Jersey, Sir,
the laws alone bear sway."

The winter of 1777-78 developed a considerable amount of
smuggling, which taxed the genius of General Clinton to the
utmost to prevent. He appointed Alexander Gardiner wharf
officer at Staten Island, and required all vessels carrying goods
to the island to land them at Cole's ferry and nowhere else,
and there all cargoes should be inspected by the said officer,
who would allow goods to be taken thence to their places of
destination on the island. This officer was also authorized
to seize and confiscate all goods not corresponding to the
superintendent's permit accompanying them, and also to seize
and confiscate any vessel found employed in such illicit

The effort to prevent commerce between the island and
New Jersey was not confined to the British authorities. It
was prohibited also by the colonists. An illustration of the
the efforts made to prevent commercial intercourse with the
enemy is furnished by the following anecdote. In January,
1778, one William Pace, of Schooley's mountain, and Thomas
V. Camp, of Somerset county, were both on their way to
Staten Island, the latter with a quantity of Hour and the
former with four quarters of beef, intended for the British
general. They were both arrested and taken before the council
of safety on the 28th. It would have been regarded as high
treason had evidence been sufficient to prove clearly that
their cargoes were designed to supply the wants of the enemy,
but this proof was wanting. Still there was evidence sufficient
to warrant the council in confiscating the flour and beef and
further imposing a fine upon each for asking a price for their
goods higher than the law established. On the following day,
however, evidence was produced that one Jacob Fitz Randolph,
who lived at the Jersey side of the Blazing Star, had met
them at " Sparck-Town," a locality infested by tories on
Railway river, several miles southwest of Elizabethtown, and
engaged to take their cargoes across the sound when the ice
broke up if they would bring them to his house. They were
accordingly apprehended and confined in jail for procuring
provisions for the enemy.

Early in the morning of the 10th of June three boats were
loaded with men at Elizabethtown and proceeded down the


sound to the mouth of the Fresh kill, and landing between the
Blazing Star and Burnt island in the mouth of the kill, they
surprised the picket, but being unable to drive them back they
retired and waited on the Jersey shore until near daybreak,
when they returned with an increase of numbers and attempted
to land at the same place, under cover of their batteries. They
met with such vigorous resistance from Skinner's brigade, who
were guarding that point, that they were obliged to abandon
the undertaking, and retired, with small loss on either side. In
the meantime the British were thoroughly alarmed, and the
corps of royal artillery which had been posted at the redoubts
between Ryers' and Cole's ferries were put in motion with two
six-pounders, and the troops at the different posts on the island
were also under arms and marching toward the expected scene
of action. The timely retirement of the Americans, however,
made their presence unnecessary and probably saved them-
selves from the serious consequences of an encounter with
superior numbers and the raking tire of artillery.

But little transpired on the island during the summer to be
worthy of special notice. The operations between hostile forces
were mainly confined to the petty depredations, smuggling
and raiding of foraging parties on a small scale, which were of
too frequent and continual occurrence to be worthy of special
remark. In September (10th) the commissary of forage required
the farmers to thresh out their grain at once " as the Straw is
wanted for use of his Majesty's troops," for which they were to
be paid legal rates on delivery at the magazine at Cole's ferry.

On the evening of the 30th of September an expedition hav-
ing been fitted out with troops, embarked from Staten Island,
set sail for Little Egg harbor, off which point they arrived on
the 5th of October, having been delayed by adverse winds.

As the hard winter of 1778-9 came on proclamations were
issued fixing the prices of various common necessities as fol-
lows : Walnut cordwood, or any other kind of wood, four
pounds per cord ; upland hay, eight shillings per cwt. ; salt
hay, four shillings per cwt. ; straw, three shillings per cwt. ;
Indian corn, ten shillings per bushel ; oats, seven shillings per
bushel. Other proclamations of similar character were after-
ward issued. The following item, though not regulated by the
military authorities of the island is of interest. It is from a
paper of December 26.


" The intense cold weather has, within these two days, oc-
casioned the quick-silver in the weather-glass to fall four de-
grees lower than has been observed for the last seven years ;
several ships, &c., and many lives have been lost by the mon-
strous bodies of ice floating' in our Bay."

In March, 1779, Sir Henry Clinton, by proclamation gave per-
mission to any loyal subjects of the king to enclose and culti-
vate for their own benefit portions of the cleared woodlands
and other uncultivated lands of persons who had left their homes
on Staten Island and Long Island, and were not under the pro-
tection of the government, and such loyal subjects were also
permitted to erect temporary habitations upon such lands.

The"^^ York Gazette" of March 22, 1779, says: "Last
Thursday morning a party of Rebels from Jersey, commanded
by one Richmond, came to Prince's Bay in order to carry off a
Boat that lay there loaded with wood ; but before they could
accomplish their Design a few of the Inhabitants assembled on
the Beach and kept up such a brisk Fire upon them that they
were obliged to relinquish their Prize, which happened to be
aground, and make the best of their way home. Mr. Sleight,
an Inhabitant of Staten Island, received a Wound in his Breast
on this Occasion, but it is hoped he will do well.

" Two or three different Parties of them hare been lately at
the Seat of Col. Christopher Billop of the same Island in order
to captivate him once more, with a view to get him for an Ex-

At the same time parties from the island were making fre-
quent incursions into New Jersey. As examples the two fol-
lowing paragraphs from Game's " New York Gazette," will

[April 26] "Last Wednesday Lieutenant-Colonel Buskirk
sent off Capt. Ryerson, Lieut. Buskirk, and Ensign Earle with
a Detachment of 42 Men of the 4th Battalion of New Jersey
Volunteers, who fell in with the Rebels about Day-Break, im-
mediately charged and put them to the Rout, killed and wounded
a considerable Number, whom they passed on the Field beg-
ging for Mercy, while they followed the rest until reinforced by
their Main Body, consisting of about 100 Carolina Troops and
sixty militia; Captain Ryerson perceiving his Men much fa-
tigued drew off his little Party to a rising Ground, where in-
stead of being attacked by them so much superior in Number,


he saw them Retreat. His Loss on the Occasion was one Man
missing and two wounded."

[July 3] " Last Tuesday Night a Detachment from his Ma-
jesty's 37th Regiment, with a Party of Col. Barton's and some
Refugees, went over from Staten-Island to a Place called Wood-
bridge Raway, where they surprized a Party of Rebels in a
Tavern, killed their commanding Officer Captain Skinner of a
Troop of Light Horse, and another Man, and took the following-
Prisoners, viz.: Capt. Samuel Meeker, Christopher March,
Joseph Stephens, Benjamin Willis, David Craig, Stephen Ball,
Lewis Marsh, Jotham Moore, Jesse Whitehead, John Thorp,
Thomas Bioomfield, Jeremiah Corey and David Hall."

As has before been intimated, Col. Christopher Billop was a
conspicuous object, and the whigs of Jersey were anxious to
secure him as a prisoner. Several attempts were made. At
last, on the 23d of June, a party of about twenty landed near the
house under cover of some trees, and undiscovered by the in-
mates of the house approached it and seized their victim, and
bore him away to Jersey. On the same night a party landed and
carried off another prominent tory, Colonel Cortelyou, and with
him one William Smith of Woodbridge, who was his guest at
the time.

We are prompted in passing, to give the following extract
from a tory paper of September 18, 1779, which, though not
openly germain to the subject, contains a hidden sarcasm,
which may be seen in the light of the fact that the atmosphere
of New York was strong with "loyal" sentiment, while the op-
posite was true in New Jersey.

" The old inhabitants of Staten-Island assert, that the cause
of the Fever and Ague's having been so. prevalent of late there,
was the want of the usual quantity of Thunder and Lightning.
But what shall we think of the cause, to which a Lady from
Jersey attributes the sickly state of the inhabitants of that Prov-
ince? She affirms it is entirely owing to the scarcity of Mus-
ketoes. If what she affirms be true how easily can we account
for the great health abounding in this city. We have Phlebot-
omists in plenty. Genuine.''' 1

The following records are suggestive and appropriate to this

"Sept. 28th 1779 Richmond County. Received of John Bedel


Esq. the sum of Fifty one Pound six shill for the use of the Gun
boat as appeals by the following receipt
"Richmond County Sept the 28. 1779

"Received of Mess r Richard Conner, Christian Jacobson
Henry Ferine, Cornells Corson supervissors for said County the
sum of Eighty four Pound being in full for my selfe & Eight
men belonging to the gun boat commenceing the fourteent of
august last and continued for one month

by me JAS. STEWART Capt"

There are allusions to the gun-boat in several places in the
records ; it was probably one of the means used by Colonel Bil-
lop to enforce the order to prevent communication between New
Jersey and Staten Island. This boat, for a time at least, ap-
pears to have been under the direction of Colonel Billop, and
was an unpopular affair to the people on both sides of the water.
It was an almost daily occurrence that those on board fired at
any person within their reach on the Jersey shores ; with what
effect, however, is not known. A company of a half dozen Jer-
seymen once attempted to get possession of the boat, but failed.
It was lying at anchor one bright moonlight night under the
shore of the island, and as no person was seen moving on board,
they supposed their opportunity bad come. Accordingly, one
of their number was sent in a small boat to row up some
distance above the gun-boat, and then to drift silently down
with the ebb tide, and, as he passed, to observe whether there
was any person on her deck. He succeeded in accomplishing
his purpose, but discovered a man sitting flat upon the deck,
apparently engaged in strapping a knife upon his boot. When
he reached the shore he made his report, and the enterprise
was abandoned for the time, nor do we know that it was ever
after renewed.

The sloop "Neptune" was kept as a guard-boat, stationed
above Decker's ferry. She was in command of Captain Palfrey.
By some untoward circumstances she drifted or by some means
fell within range of the guns of the fort at Elizabeth town point on
the morning of October 15th, and there she grounded. Captain
Coogle, who was in command at Decker's ferry, discovered her
situation and sent Cornelius Hetfield, who had command of a
gun-boat at that post, with twenty men to recover the sloop.
The latter was at once joined by Job Hetfield in another boat,
well manned, and they both set off for the " Neptune," which by


this time had been boarded by about thirty men from the oppo-
site shore. The latter, seeing the superior numbers and strength
of their assailants, abandoned the sloop and the Hetfield party
went on board. The cannon from the fort now opened on the
sloop and the fire was returned by the Heth'elds. For several
hours the vessel remained aground, before the tide arose suffi-
ciently to float her, and during that time firing continued with
more or less activity. Though several men were wounded, and
perhaps some killed, and considerable damage done, the boat
was able to escape to her station.

November 24, 1779, Sir Henry Clinton issued his proclama-
tion to procure fuel for the approaching winter. It was well
that he thus early made preparation for the needs of his army
during what proved to be a long and extremely cold winter.
He required all persons who had obtained permission to cut
wood "off certain lands on Long Island and Staten Island im-
mediately to bring what wood they have cut to this market,"
and required all owners of woodlands on those islands to cut and
cart their wood to the most contiguous landings in such propor-
tion "as will fully answer the intent and meaning of this proc-
lamation and prevent the disagreeable necessity of granting
permission to their wood to be cut by others. 1 ' Later in the
winter, Governor James Robertson, of the province of New
York, issued a proclamation forbidding the cutting of wood on
the estates of persons " supposed to be in rebellion."

The third important attempt to invade the island was made
during this winter which is known as the hard winter of 1779-
80. The American forces were quartered in New Jersey for
the winter, but poorly clothed, provisioned and armed. Gen-
eral Washington, in his quarters at Morristown, planned this
expedition, and left its direction to General Stirling. From
their peculiar exposure and sufferings at the moment, the com-
mander-in-chief, perhaps, suggested this attack, to divert the
minds of his discontented men from their numerous and fear-
ful forebodings. The American army was then encamped on
the hills back of Morristown, the encampment extending sev-
eral miles into the country. Their canvas tents afforded but a

Online LibraryRichard Mather BaylesHistory of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time → online text (page 20 of 72)